In life, we are seldom happy with our little lot, and when we are, things conspire to trip us up. How many times as a kid did you desperately want a certain thing for Christmas, only to find it wasn’t anywhere near as good as you were expecting? Like you’d been conned somehow. Truth is, what is one person’s utopia, is another person’s dystopia. On a personal level, the wonderful workplace that Trev was always describing as a great place to work, turned out to be nothing of the sort. First of all, it was a different environment. I was used to manufacturing, I was now working in a warehouse. I wasn’t the only one that found themselves in an alien world and if I’m being honest, struggled with it too. Teamwork is not a word that has a place in a warehouse. Let alone needing any machine knowledge. I had never been part of such a nasty, vindictive, two faced, selfish workforce in my life. I could count all the people I actually liked and had any respect for on the fingers of one hand and still have two left. You can probably guess what kind of sign I wanted to make with those remaining two fingers. Things had become estranged between me and Trev. Truth is, I’d become irritated by him. If I’m being totally honest, he bored me intensely. Trev is who he is. I know that sounds a rather obvious thing to say, but certain people have a ‘Marmite’ personality. You can either like them or hate them. Unbeknown to them, they can be oblivious to how much their personality can grate on other people. In terms of Trev and Marmite, every now and again, I like Marmite on toast, but it’s a once in a blue moon experience. Living and working in the same places with the bloke, was far too much Marmite. I purposefully tried to avoid him at work. The car trips to and from the place were excruciatingly dull. I wasn’t enjoying the job, I hadn’t realised it, but over the years, I’d grown to find a certain amount of satisfaction out of producing something. Strange as it sounds, but I felt an importance. Learning and then mastering a machine gives you an inane sense of knowledge. Knowledge is power after all. Warehouse work is different and I couldn’t grasp an infinity with it. So I didn’t like the job, didn’t like the people I worked with, and hated Rowett football. In fact, whenever his name was mentioned, I unconsciously leapt at the chance to criticise him. Straight after a pathetic performance away at Newcastle, I had encountered a group of despondent Blues fans in the pub. I of course was disparaging about Rowett. A young lad tried to defend him. In retrospect, I felt sorry for him, because I systematically took Rowett apart and left the lad in no doubt that he couldn’t defend him. The sadness that enveloped him was visually palpable. The poor kid sat looking like he’d had the stuffing ripped out of him. Everyone who knew me passed just knowing my name, knew I wanted Rowett gone. It was almost like whenever I was introduced by someone, it was ‘This is Sid, he hates Rowett’. Thing is, I was in the minority. I may have been spreading the word, and that minority was growing, but it was still a minority. Or so I thought anyway. I had an ally or allies in a place I wasn’t expecting, the boardroom. I was at work when I heard of Rowett’s dismissal. A bloke out of the office specifically came and found me in the warehouse to give me the great (It was better than just good) news. I was shocked but extremely happy. I even thought of executing several cartwheels. What happened next, even I thought was stupid. Not who was appointed, but how. Rowett was sacked in the morning, by the time Trev had driven us home after work in the afternoon, Gianfranco Zola had been appointed. It was a crass way of handling it. The way it was handled sent shock waves not only through the stands of St Andrews, but throughout the footballing world. Everyone and their favourite Aunt had an opinion and the general consensus was that it was a bad move. The main reason was that Blues were sitting just outside the playoffs and with most of the season still left, seemingly, handily placed for an assault on those places. Hindsight is of course a waste of time, but with foresight, I knew we weren’t going to make the playoffs. Rowett supporters will forever say that we will never know. Trust me, we wouldn’t have. Zola went about changing the way we played. Players who had had their thought processes taken away from them, were now having to make decisions and actually play what they were supposed to. Some embraced the ‘new system’, rediscovered what a football was for. A lot had been so well drilled and disciplined, that for them, a football took on the properties of a rugby ball. It didn’t make for coherence. The bemusement was quickly surpassed by frustration and disillusionment in the stands. I personally had never seen the likes of it at Blues, and the wounds are still healing even now. It had created civil war between Blues fans. Good friends became at odds with each other, fights broke out on a regular basis. Football invokes unbelievably strong emotions in people. Those emotions were boiling over. The board had effectively tried to carry out brain surgery with an axe. Hoping that the replacement of one head with another would be seamless, everything would be fine and no one would notice. How wrong could they have been. I was desperate for Zola to do well. There were passages of play that were a joy to watch. After the grit of Rowett’s football being repeatedly thrown in my eyes, it was like having them lovingly cared for at a health spa. Unfortunately, the results were awful. Regardless of formations, systems and psychological mindsets, it’s about points, and we weren’t gaining enough, if any at all. With the transfer window opening up the day after this game, I wasn’t finding it easy to walk or pick up a pint, as I had all my fingers and toes crossed that Zola had a magic wand. I headed up to Sheffield with the intention of drinking in Barnsley. I joined up with fellow ale trailers, Mikey, Spoons, Jude, Daryl, Ian and Nick, in the Sheffield Tap. They had sorted out a trail in between Sheffield and Barnsley. Jude was going to do the first pub, but then head back into Sheffield. We stopped off at Chapeltown first. As the Commercial wasn’t yet open, we went in the unusually named for a Wetherspoons, Wagon and Horses. It was nothing special and just a time filler. The Commercial was a different story, a proper pub you could easily while away the afternoon or evening in. Before getting back on the train, we stocked up at a local bakery just round the corner from the station. I was to learn that Mikey always seems to have food on him.. Spoons said goodbye to Jude, and we moved on to Elsecar. There was two in the GBG that were planned, though none of us actually knew how to get to them. We took in The Crown. And although the bemused owner was welcoming, his beer wasn’t the best. I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed, Ian had a different beer to me and he hadn’t been impressed either. As someone who was vastly more experienced than me when it came to real ale, I felt quite pleased with myself, I felt like I’d arrived. My beer tastebuds had come of age. We got a little lost trying to find the next place, and decided on what we thought was a short cut. The ale trail turned into a nature trail. We finally found the Market Hotel, but at one point on the way, I wondered where the Hell we were going and whether I should invest in a pair of walking boots when I got back to civilisation, especially if I was going to stick with my new friends. The Market Hotel was well worth the hassle though. We probably could’ve just missed out The Crown and gone to the Market Hotel instead. It’s the old adage though, if you don’t try, you don’t know. The trouble was now, time was not on our side. The quandary was whether to phone for a taxi or take the advice of the owner and catch the bus. Either way, it was looking highly likely that we were going to miss kickoff. Nick decided to give up completely on going to the game. We ordered a taxi, and waited outside for its arrival. As we did, the bus came along the road. As the taxi hadn’t turned up yet, we banked on the bus at least getting us to Barnsley. We were used to the buses of Brum. They tend to stick to main roads and don’t hang around. The faster the bus got, the longer it seemed to take. Spoons felt obliged to apologise for me missing the kickoff. I’d been concerned when it was apparent back in the pub, we were likely to miss it, but that concern had evaporated. Besides, I was actually enjoying myself and that was what it was all about. Spotting Oakwell’s floodlights, we got off and walked the rest of the way to the ground. The stewards weren’t expecting as many late comers, but still searched us. The one searching me, discovered the copy of the Brum Mail I’d bought. I gladly handed the rag over to him. I’d meant to leave it in one of the pubs as a Brummie calling card anyway.
No sooner had I spotted Daz and George, deciding to sit next to them, than Barnsley scored. No sooner had we been able to process this, than they went 2:0 up. As you can guess, I was blamed, seen as a bad omen because of my late appearance. Maghoma pulled one back, but the dissension amongst the Rowett fans in the away end as the half ended, was aimed at fans who had wanted him gone. It was to prove to get worse over the coming weeks. I said farewell to Daz and George, wanting to go up the back. Daz’s knees weren’t allowing him to stand for long even then. Zola changed the formation, bringing on substitute Jukiewicz. I’d like to say it did the trick, and initially it did. 5 minutes into the second half and Marc Roberts (Yeah, the one that’s now at Blues) took out Che Adams in the area. Penalty and a red card for the home defender. It was a lifeline. Jukiewicz stepped up and scored from the spot. Surely we could capitalise on this guilt edged chance, shut the Rowett fans up. No is the answer to that one. It finished 2:2. It was a point gained after the mid first half capitulation, but being back on parity and with a player advantage for 40 minutes left, felt like a chance missed.
Coming out of the ground, the atmosphere was one of confusion, it had been a strange game but not one we were either happy or angry with. Like I’ve said, I was desperate for Zola to do well but it wasn’t going swimmingly by any stretch of the imagination. Knowing the Italian would be given money to spend in the January sales, gave me hope that his tenure would ignite. I met up with Steve and Daryl in a little micro pub in a shopping arcade. After trying to dissect the game, they went to get their train, mine wasn’t due for another hour and a half. (I’d actually got advanced tickets to and back from Barnsley.) After finishing my pint, I went in search of a former GBG entry. The Keel Inn was a typical housing estate style pub, but without a housing estate. It did however, have an interesting display of framed mining photos and memorabilia. It may not have been worth the walk for the beer, it was just for the display. It actually brought it down to me, how much the strike in 84/85 had impacted on the town and the area. I obviously knew of it, but the reality of it hadn’t touched me or my family other than supporting them in spirit. At the time, I was young and stupid. Something that over the years, would change to being old and stupid. I got the train back home to Brum. Could 2017 bring a change in fortune for me and Blues?